Thom Hartmann is a prominent left-wing radio broadcaster from the USA. I first came across him when he interviewed me at a conference in Washington and was promptly told by everyone just how prominent he is. He describes himself as a “democratic socialist” and his nationally-syndicated radio show has an estimated 2.75 million listeners. George Galloway needs no introduction to a left-wing audience in the UK.
What Hartmann and Galloway have in common is that they host shows on Russia Today (RT), a global satellite television channel that performs the same function for Vladimir Putin as Press TV did (and still does) for the Iranian dictatorship.
Hartmann’s show, “The Big Picture”, typically covers the standard fare of the US left — most recently with reports on how badly Walmart treats its workers, or why Vermont’s socialist senator Bernie Sanders should run for president.
Galloway’s new show on RT is called “Sputnik: Orbiting the world with George Galloway”.
RT uses the language of the mainstream left to cover politics that are fundamentally reactionary and that serve Russian imperial interests.
Of course that’s not how the TV channel describes itself. “RT news covers the major issues of our time for viewers wishing to question more,” says their website, “and delivers stories often missed by the mainstream media to create news with an edge.”
By “news with an edge”, they may sometimes mean that quite literally — and the edge belongs to a Russian bayonet.
For example, according to a timeline published on RT’s website, in 2008, “RT leads the coverage of the conflict in South Ossetia. RT is the only international news network to report from Tskhinvali during the Russia-Georgia War of 2008 and the first to confirm atrocities committed by the Georgian military against the civilian population.” They were probably the only news network in South Ossetia because they were embedded in the Russian army.
One of RT’s regular shows “exposes the BIG STORIES Mainstream Media dare not touch,” according to their website. But those stories are invariably ones in which the West, and in particular the USA, comes out looking bad. When RT turns its attention closer to home, the progressive mask drops rather quickly and the strident tone of late-Stalinist Soviet propaganda comes to the fore.
This week, while “Mainstream Media” reported on the mass street protests in Kiev, RT brought on experts to discuss what was behind the new, giant wave of demonstrations. One Moscow-based expert came on to explain that while it appeared that the European Union was behind the unrest – for which the United Nations should be called upon to intervene, as the EU was violating Ukraine’s sovereignty – this was not actually the case. The EU, we’re told, is only acting as a proxy for Washington. The real behind-the-scenes players are the National Endowment for Democracy and Freedom House – the same shadowy organizations that brought on the original “Orange Revolution”.
RT can’t enforce a party line, and the speaker that followed — a Russian academic — forcefully disagreed, insisting that it was in fact the EU that was sabotaging Ukrainian sovereignty, and not merely the EU acting as an American proxy.
Both speakers of course agreed that it was Western “interference” that was the source of the trouble. While the two speakers were “debating” who was more at fault, the news ticker scrolling across the bottom of the screen talked about how protesters in Kiev were throwing rocks at police, how an estimated 100 police officers had been injured so far (no mention of civilian casualties), and how some protestors were using “an unknown gas” to attack the defenders of public order.
The film footage shown again and again was of masked, violent protestors hurling objects at the police, who stood still for the cameras. It was made abundantly clear to RT’s viewers that the Russian state is not happy with pro-EU demonstrators in Ukraine, and that Mr Putin would be delighted if the Ukrainian leadership would deal with them the way he has dealt with such threats to state security as “Pussy Riot” and the Greenpeace “pirates”.
Let’s be absolutely clear about what RT actually is. This is a state organ of the Putin regime and though it occasionally uses the language of the left (when attacking Russia’s rivals) the one thing consistent about its coverage is its uncritical support of Russian imperialism.
Honest leftists should refuse to have anything to do with RT, shouldn’t watch it, should refuse to be interviewed by it, and certainly should not host shows on it.